Sixpack Abs and Core Strength Do Not Come From Crunches

Written on:February 20, 2013
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I Hurt My Back

It hurts, it hurts a lot.  I was lifting a bike into the back of my car with crazy form, weight away from my body and my back obviously not in a good position.  Probably I didn’t brace, man I was in a hurry.  Then I felt that pop and slow heat in my lower back and I knew it was bad.  It wasn’t muscular, that’s for sure.

Straight away I took myself down to the guys at to have a look.  One quick assessment later and I had been diagnosed as “presenting with an L4/L5 disk bulge”.  Apparently it’s only minor or I’d not be capable of walking.  But walking I was…just.   Long story short it’s now a couple of days later and I’m vertical, walking without pain, but I am not challenging the lower back at this point.  I’m being a good patient and doing all of the physio exercises and things are slowly getting back in order.  Now I realise how often my kids ask to be picked up, because I’ve never had to say no before.  They were largely unsympathetic.

As a result of this, the physio has suggested that I spend a little more time working on my core, so I have been doing some research.  My thoughts were that I could do some crunches, perhaps a bit of planking and bobs your uncle.  While reading up a couple of things I came across an article which shocked me, about how some people claim that crunches can actually be doing your lower back harm.  Here it is:

It’s quoting Stuart McGill (, who I’ve been reading up on lately.  He had this to say about crunches:

“There are only so many bends or a ‘fatigue life’,” in your spinal disks,” says Stuart M. McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo. Inside each disk is a mucus-like nucleus, he says, and “if you keep flexing your spine and bending the disk over and over again, that nucleus slowly breaches the layers and causes a disk bulge, or a disk herniation.”  A herniated disk won’t show through your swimsuit, but it’s no fun, and can cause persistent back and leg pain, weakness, and tingling

In short, he’s saying that you are going to wear out the lower back by performing loads of crunches, and the end result is pain.  I know that pain so now I am going to work on core strength which doesn’t involve that repeated strain on the disks.

Further than wear and tear on the disks, crunches also do not actually strengthen the core muscles which provide the stability and strength that we need for day to day activities.  In short they’re all about show, with no go.  I’m interested in functional fitness.  Besides which, six pack abs start in the kitchen.  If you want to put them on show, then you’re going to have to start digging through that fatty layer on the outside.

My Exercises For Core Strength

Push UpObviously I’m going slow on this one.  For starters there are a couple of mobility exercises that the physio has given me that I am going to work on until next I meet him.  When I do, I’m going to ask whether it’s appropriate for me to start on some core work such as Push Ups, Planks and Leg Drops.  The pushup isn’t usually considered a core strength exercise, however it really is.  You move your core muscles to stabilize your trunk as your arms and back work to move the body up and down.  It works the abs, front of your legs, arms and back. It’s a truly functional exercise.

For back health and stronger core are also the ones that work your abs while holding your spine straight, like planks or leg drops.

Surely you’ve seen a plank before!





Leg drops are when you lie on your back and raise your legs up at a 90 degree angle, then slowly lower until they’re only inches from the ground. Repeat to exhaustion.


In everyday life, you still need to keep an eye on your form when lifting.  Particularly if your core needs some work!  Don’t think of crunches as helpful, they most certainly are not.  Pushups, planks and leg drops are a great start to core strength.  Finally, remember that six pack abs are born in kitchen and on the circuit!

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